Rivers Casino Portsmouth opens to big crowds
Thousands flocked to Va.'s first permanent casino Monday
When Rivers Casino Portsmouth opened its doors Monday, Christopher Hoffman was among the thousands of patrons attending opening day at the first permanent casino to open in Virginia.
A Hampton resident and manager at Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, Hoffman said he wanted to be “part of history” happening in the state. He gave the casino a good review, saying he plans to visit about twice a month, but said he wished the 250,000-square-foot casino would designate a smoking area, instead of allowing smoking in the entire gaming room in a way reminiscent of Las Vegas casinos. Others guests Virginia Business spoke to agreed with the sentiment. (The Virginia Clean Indoor Air Act, which generally prohibits smoking in restaurants and other indoor public places, carves out exceptions for “any portion of a facility licensed to conduct casino gaming.”)
Nevertheless, it didn’t deter the crowd inside the casino Monday as they pulled levers on slot machines, slid playing cards across tables and sipped on cold drinks at the multiple bars. Chips flipped and dice rolled across gaming tables. Lights flashed from slot machines and people simultaneously celebrated wins and bemoaned money lost.
After initially delaying its opening by about a week, the $340 million Portsmouth casino opened to bustling crowds as people lined up early ahead of its 10 a.m. Monday opening. Norfolk State University’s Spartan Legion marching band kicked off the opening and Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover, Portsmouth Economic Development Director Brian Donahue, Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kelly Gee were present at the grant opening with Tim Drehkoff, CEO of Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming LLC, which operates the casino.
Gina Smith, the Virginia Lottery’s deputy director of gaming compliance, presented the casino its official operator license during the Monday opening ceremony.
“We’re here to serve the community, our guests and our team members,” Roy Corby, general manager of Rivers Casino Portsmouth, said in a statement. “We’ll accomplish that mission by creating a stellar guest experience and becoming the entertainment destination of choice for Portsmouth, Hampton Roads and visitors to our area.”
The casino had two soft opening nights benefitting three local charities before Monday’s opening. Proceeds from those nights went to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, USO Hampton Roads and Central Virginia and Wesley Community Service Center. Each group received $170,000 in total contributions. Glover, state Sen. Louise Lucas and House Minority Leader Don Scott placed the ceremonial first wagers during the charity event Saturday.
The casino has hired about 1,000 employees so far, with plans to eventually employ 1,300 permanent workers. Rivers Casino Portsmouth’s estimated annual payroll will be $62 million.
Beatrice Joseph of Virginia Beach occupied a chair at one of the 1,446 slot machines in the casino’s gaming room. She arrived at the casino at about 2 p.m., but was unable to snag a seat at one of the 24 poker tables. Still, she deemed it a “really nice establishment,” saying she planned to come back often.
Another area of the casino has 57 game tables. Chesapeake cover band Better by Tuesday played on the stage of The Sound Bar. Meanwhile, casinogoers crowded around tables and bar at the sportsbook, with its 753-square-foot screen — a 12-foot-by-62-foot-wide viewing wall that can simultaneously display dozens of televised sports events.
The casino’s restaurants, which include Admiral’s Steak & Seafood, Crossings Cafe, Mian, Slice Pizzeria and Starbucks, also attracted long lines of patrons Monday. Later this year, a Yard House restaurant will open.
The casino also has a 25,000-square-foot multipurpose Event Center. The Epsilon Nu Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. held its annual Martin Luther King scholarship luncheon as the venue’s first event on Jan. 16.
On the casino’s 90,000-square-foot main floor, nearly every seat was taken, and a line stretched out the door of folks waiting to get in to try their hand at gaming. Nearly every parking space in the 2,000-space lot was taken by mid-afternoon.
Ivory Ned of Chesapeake arrived at 9 a.m. He wanted to be there on opening day because he’s a fan of casinos and said he’s glad he won’t have to drive to Maryland to play now.
The Portsmouth casino is the first permanent casino to open in Virginia, but a temporary casino opened in Bristol in July 2022. Two more casinos, one in Norfolk and one in Danville, are in the pipeline, while Richmond and Petersburg officials are sparring over the possibility of a fifth casino in the commonwealth.
Rivers Casino Portsmouth was built by Virginia Beach-based S.B. Ballard Construction Co. and Philadelphia-based Yates Construction. Raleigh, North Carolina-based Kimley-Horn served as engineering consultant; Las Vegas-based Klai Juba Wald Architecture + Interiors was the architect of record; New York-based Jeffrey Beers International was the primary interior designer and Illinois-based DMAC Architecture & Interiors designed interior venues. The casino’s construction supported 1,400 jobs.